Friday, March 18, 2016


Waking up this morning, none of us were thinking about how this was our last time driving over to the turtle hospital. All that was on our minds was excitement for working with the talented Monday crew this Friday and saying good morning to our favorite reptile friends. As we arrived and checked in, we were ready to hop right into our daily tasks which we have been mastering this past week.

As we picked up our nets and brushes, began cleaning the turtle tanks, and scrubbed our beloved turtles, we all realized how bittersweet these moments have become. In this short week, we could not appreciate the progress that the sick turtles have made, but as we treated the turtles and scooped up their poop, we really valued how much of a difference we the volunteers make in their lives.

As always, when Tiffany, John, Ashley, and I (Melissa) entered Sick Bay, we were greeted by both old and new faces. I chose to follow under the wing of self-proclaimed and proven turtle-whisperer Susie. Like all of the volunteers, Susie puts all of her heart into caring for the turtles. She works personally with Valor, testing new ways that may allow her to dive in the water, uninhibited by the air bubble under her carapace. She also takes it upon herself to stay long after all of the chores are done in order to provide extra care to the turtles who need it. Today, I was lucky enough to stay behind with Susie and help her treat Piglet’s flipper, as her frostbite wound seems to have gotten worse in a matter of just two days. Jean watched over us as we did a second round of treatments. It was incredible how calm and patient Piglet was in the presence of these two amazing women. Even though she was clearly not feeling well, Jean’s soothing touch and Susie’s relaxing praises made her feel safe. When we finished with the treatments, we placed Piglet back in her clean tank and sat with her to make sure she was feeling well enough to eat. We left with Piglet swimming happily in her tub and finishing all of her greens. Susie and I thanked each other and parted ways but not before exchanging emails so she could keep me updated on Piglet’s condition. Luckily, Dr. Harms is scheduled to come in this Monday and check on all of the turtles. I’m sure special attention will be paid to Piglet.

As lunch time approached, we put our hunger aside and dove into the messiest, largest, toughest job we had to do at the hospital this whole week. We came together as a team to scrub, spray, and disinfect the messy trenches that run between the turtle tanks. The tiny people were unfortunate enough to fit below the tanks into the trenches, so Tiffany, Katie, and Chloe got the messiest but cleaned the most. After we were done, the hospital bay was glowing, and we were confident that the turtles sensed our pride and felt it too.

After lunch, we were honored by a lecture from Terri, the beach walking program coordinator and the second in command volunteer at the hospital. She adds humor to everything she does, and inspired us with her dedication over the decades to walking the beaches, rescuing turtles, and protecting the eggs that they lay in the sand.

Before we head out for the last time this week, we got a beautiful, inspiring talk from the head of the hospital, Jean Beasley. She explained that our place on this planet was that of a thread within the fabric that is life on Earth. She challenged us to live our lives to the fullest, find happiness, and become strong and true threads to hold the world together. As always, she blessed our visit with the best hugs in the world.

Hugged Jean → Life Fulfilled

In order to commemorate our time at the hospital, Jean let us all take pictures in pairs with Darth Vader. Once the doors of Turtle Bay opened, we flooded in to take pictures of all the turtles we possibly could. Valor was the photogenic favorite, stealing all of our attention and our hearts.

A panoramic view of the beautiful Turtle Bay

The friendliest turtle, Valor.

Valor has an air pocket trapped within his rear end, preventing him from diving completely underwater.

Lee is the sweetest Loggerhead, flaunting his lucky fin for the camera.

A very photogenic Fergus smiling for the camera.

A beautiful (and NOT albino) Lennie popping out to say goodbye to us.

A hasty photo taken of Cinco as we were corralled back into the teaching room.

Besides helping the turtles, our trip was also aimed at bring us closer together as a group. Through our daily reflections, we got to know and respect each other, BUT it was all put to the test when we made it back from the hospital with only an hour for all twelve us to de-grime, wash up, and attempt to make ourselves look presentable.

For dinner, we went to the wonderful Quartermaster's Restaurant & Tavern.

Quartermaster Ralph and his booty, Melissa.

Quartermaster Ralph and his scalawag first mate, Danny.

Dinner with Jean that night was an extra special event for all of us. We treated Jean with hushpuppies, and she surprised us by ordering crab dip for the whole table. The food was delicious, and the company was fantastic. Jean told us stories about Mamma Kitty and the old turtle hospital location, and gave us all hugs once more.

We topped off the week with a cake as sweet as this experience. During tonight’s reflection, we wrote letters to ourselves that we will receive 6 months from now. Contained in those letters were our personal messages on how we should and will keep motivated to bring back what we learned to our communities.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Day 6: #TeachingThursday: a photo story

Today was teaching day! After getting pumped up with Taylor Swift’s Blank Space, we arrived at the Karen Beasley center and practiced our presentations. More than 100 excited children arrived at the turtle hospital this morning to learn about and see the turtles. The kids moved from station to station and learned about types of turtles, facts about their lifestyles, and more! We split up to teach at 8 different stations, the last one being inside Turtle Bay with volunteers sharing stories of some of the turtles in the hospital. After the first group of kids, it was non-stop presenting for the next hour and a half. Our voices were a bit hoarse afterwards (but not hoarse enough to stop us from singing in the car on the way to the Raptor Center).

Katie and Ashley at the Bio Facts station

John at the Turtles of the World Station, and Janine at the Cold-stunning station
Emma at the Success Stories station, talking about October and Walker.

Tiffany and Danny at the Pollution station

Chloe and Nicole at the Nesting station

Melissa at the Sick Bay station
After the teacher was over and the kids had left, we drove to the Cape Fear Raptor Center. Greg, who volunteers at the turtle hospital as well, Faye, and Tamara showed us the raptors they have at the center. Faye gave a presentation and taught us a lot about the hunting and eating habits of the birds, the training and use of the raptors as education birds, and the ways that the raptors become injured and are treated and readied for release.

This is Faye with Archie, who is the mascot of the raptor center and a permanent resident after he imprinted on a human.
This is Karma who is a barn owl, which is an endangered species.
We got to see some of the permanent residents of the facility that were in cages outside and hear stories about what happened to them. Below is a photo of Tamara who brought this Turkey Vulture out of its cage so that we could get a better look.

We got to pet an emu, which was just about the coolest thing that Chloe had ever done in her life. See photo below.

On the way home from the raptor center, we stopped to enjoy some ice cream.

After coming back from the raptor center, the group took some pictures in matching turtle shirts, and many left to look for shark teeth or walk on the beach.
Boots and Katie made a delicious dinner of soup, salad, and buttery garlic rolls that we ate with pasta salad generously made for us by Peggy, a volunteer at the hospital.

During the reflection, we started with roses, buds and thorns and then talked about our feelings about the teaching and the raptor center. Then we were introduced to the concept of an involvement spectrum. It had four categories which included in order member, volunteer, conscientious citizen, and active citizen. We discussed the definition of the categories and placed ourselves on the spectrum based on our feelings on our experience and knowledge and then talked about how this experience has helped us move closer to being active citizens. Another thing we discussed was what type of interactions and experiences are valuable and can help us become more active. We then went outside to the beach and talked about the different things that we each value and appreciate about nature. Finally, we shared some of our favorite quotes and explained the meaning that they hold and why we value them.

Tomorrow is a full day--we'll do the normal turtle work, clean the trenches, and have a nice dinner with Jean. Time to make some sandwiches!

Janine and Chloe

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Day 5: #WhimsicalWednesday

Another sunny day at Topsail Beach...

After a breakfast of cheerios (yet again) and a cloudy sunrise (yet again), we mounted our trusty minivan steeds and drove to the sea turtle hospital to meet our Wednesday volunteers. We headed to our post in Sick Bay to begin our duties. Katie started out by treating some of the amazing turtles and Boots started by bathing the turtles. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, we ran out of honey, so the treatments went very quickly today-- we were done by 11:30! (We even beat the volunteers in Sea Turtle Bay, which is rare) Katie's favorite thing was being able to finally hold some of the turtles during treatments. Touching and interacting with these creatures is an extremely unique opportunity. Boots' favorite thing today was touching a green turtle's nose and, strange enough, cleaning the turtle bins with Judy, who was very fun to work with! We had a very good routine going with the other volunteers in sick bay, rotating every three or four turtles, and we were laughing and talking the whole time!

Hopping back into the minivans, we devoured snacks while driving to the south point of the island. The south point has no houses for about a half a mile, providing an excellent setting for an afternoon walk. Many of us pointed out how blue the water was, and we snapped some great pictures. We dipped our feet in the cool water, which felt great on this 80 degree day, and collected shells. Walking up to a tidepool, we noticed a few small crabs. After getting closer, we found hundreds of these little crabs (and we tried not to step on them or get pinched!). On the way back from the beach, we stopped by a couple of cute gift shops, where smoothies and souvenirs were bought. After we returned to the house, we all had some much deserved free time. We fixed and ate sandwiches, baked cookies, sat on the beach, did homework, slept, shopped some more, and prepared for our presentations tomorrow! We'll be presenting turtle facts to about 200 school kids, which should be a great experience.

Around 6:30, we headed to a nearby marsh to watch the sunset. While we saw many interesting creatures, like crabs and oysters, we also saw a lot of trash, reinforcing the reason why we are here-- environmental conservation! We reached the pier, where Nicole showed us a project she worked on her first year on the trip. The students set up ropes with many oysters attached to help filter the waters. Unfortunately, most of the ropes had no oysters left on them, likely because the project was abandoned. We took pictures of the beautiful sunset, and met some fishermen. While we were taking photos, they caught a little puffer fish! We touched it and took pictures of it before they dropped it back into the water. After the sun went down, Danny and Melissa cooked an extravagant and delicious dinner which included sausages, potatoes, salad, guacamole, and more! We reflected on our day during dinner. After we finished our food, we prepared and performed skits about the three aspects of ASB: Education, Community Service, and Reflection. We incorporated a lot of humor into these skits: John, Danny, and Janine called each other about 10 different names (Jose, Janice, and Damian were some of our favorites) and Chloe pretended that it would be a good idea to put a sea turtle in a plastic bag to carry it around (and then proceeded to put the plastic bag over her head). We were cracking up the entire time! Additionally, we practiced our presentations for the children tomorrow, which we are all very excited for. Overall, it was a nice, sunny day and we can't wait to see what tomorrow holds!

Signing off,
Katie & Boots :)
Figure 1. Emma and Mitch send out our message to save the turtles!

Figure 2. Our fearless leaders-- Nicole, Boots, and Mitch (who are almost all matching)-- pose for a picture on the beach.

Figure 3. A lovely panorama of the beautiful waters of the south point beach.

Figure 4. We all get a little crazy after running around on the beach.

Figure 5. Our unique encounter with a puffer fish was captured on camera.

Figure 6. We all enjoyed the perfect sunset!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Day 4: #TurtleTuesday #TacoTuesday

Hi all! On our fourth day in Topsail, we awoke bright and early to a cloudy, yet peaceful sunrise over the beach horizon. After a simple breakfast of coffee and cereal, we made our way to the sea turtle hospital to volunteer for the third time. The theme of today’s trip was centered around trash, plastics, and human impacts on the environment.

Even though we volunteer in the sea turtle hospital every morning, every day is slightly different, which is one of the most exciting aspects of volunteering here! Today, some students got the chance to bathe recovering green turtles, treat them with antiseptic, and apply honey and ointment to treat calluses, hemorrhoids, and injured or damaged tissues. Others even got to hold the sea turtles! Peggy, one of the volunteers, has “the magic touch” with particularly rowdy turtles and gave us some special advice: “Take a deep breath before you hold the turtle. They can feel the calm go to your fingertips.” We watched as the rowdy, wildly-flapping sea turtles instantly relaxed in her hands. Our group truly feels humbled to volunteer here, making a difference in these sea turtles’ lives. Jean Beasley, the owner of the hospital, gave us an important reminder today: “I want you all to remember that making connections with the sea turtles is a privilege.” At the end of a long day of hard work, we finally got to visit the hospital’s gift shop, purchasing all sorts of turtle accessories to support the hospital, including our long-awaited Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center T-shirts!  

After finishing up our work, we drove home for a quick lunch of scrumptious sandwiches, before returning back to the hospital to hear a talk from Keith Rittmaster from the North Carolina Maritime Museum, which was an honor. Before Keith spoke, Ginger, a volunteer from the hospital, talked about the impact of plastics and trash on marine life by sharing personal stories of sea turtles harmed by it. Keith then discussed fishing lines and their catastrophic effects on marine life. While industries are developing technologies to make fishing lines and hooks stronger and longer-lasting, they often overlook what happens when the equipment gets lost in the ocean. As Keith put it, “Technology is jumping leaps and bounds ahead, but ethics is lagging behind.” His team had also found a dead sea turtle tangled up in a fisherman’s net. Though many people’s first reaction may be anger, his students gave him new perspective when they asked him if they could raise money to pay back the fisherman for the lost net. Keith taught us a valuable lesson about considering all sides of an issue.

After the talk, we took Jean’s advice and drove over to North Topsail Beach. Several years ago, the North Carolina Reclamation Project tried to pipe sand from further in the sea back onto the shore in order to stop the ocean from shifting the sands and eroding the North shoreline. This action, however, was devastating to the North shore and sea turtles because the sand was not filtered and large rocks were pumped all over the beach. These rocks prevent already endangered sea turtles from nesting on the beach. By visiting the North Point, we all became aware of the intimate link between our actions and the environment. As we also learned from Keith, before any decisions are made, social and environmental consequences must be considered and weighed heavily.

Upon returning home for the evening, everyone enjoyed a marvelous meal of tacos prepared by chefs Chloe and Janine! Not only is it #TurtleTuesday, but it’s also #TacoTuesday!

Finally, to finish off an amazing #TurtleTuesday, we all watched the documentary “Bag It” during reflection, which chronicles the devastating effects of the use of plastics on our own health, as well as that of the earth and future generations. The documentary stressed the importance of reducing and reusing, rather than just that of recycling. By cutting down our overall consumption of plastics, we will be able to prevent an irreversible future in which the weight of plastic pollution in the ocean is greater than that of all the fish in the ocean (as Ginger had also told us earlier in the day). We ended the night with a riveting discussion on how we could educate and inform our friends and family about these issues and how to convince them to make sustainable lifestyle changes.

Tonight, we rest up for another great day tomorrow! We can’t wait to meet the rest of the  volunteers and prepare to teach hundreds of kids about sea turtles tomorrow.

Signing off,

Ashley & Emma

Figure 1. Group picture at the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center! 
Figure 2. Keith Rittmaster's presentation on monofilament fishing lines and their devastating effects on marine life.
Figure 3. The huge sandbags at North Topsail Beach that were implemented to prevent the ocean from eroding the island and damaging island residents' homes.
Figure 4. Jean, founder of the sea turtle hospital, teaching us how valuable our experiences with the sea turtles are.
Figure 5. Chefs Janine and Chloe making tacos for #TacoTuesday! They were delicious. :)

Monday, March 14, 2016

Day 3: Turtles Inside and Out

We continued our journey on Day 3, this time welcoming the fishy scent of the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue & Rehabilitation Center. The twelve of us stored our belongings into lockers, eagerly awaiting the opportunity to reunite with the turtles from yesterday. 

As in days past, we split into groups to attend to the turtles in both the Sick Bay and the Turtle Bay. With a different set of volunteers assisting at the hospital, we quickly made new friends and adapted to their unique perspectives on how to best care for the turtles. The volunteers each had their favorite turtle and taught us about the backgrounds of many of the hospital's patients. 

While cleaning the tanks, feeding and bathing the turtles, and applying their ointments and medications, the volunteers informed us of each turtle's story and individual personality. One turtle, Valor, had been burned by chemicals, which damaged his carapace and allowed a pocket of air to form near his tail. The bubble kept floating him to the surface, a condition which precluded his release into the wild. Despite his condition, Valor greeted us every morning with an enthusiastic flap of his flippers and a lap around the tank. His resilience, matched by many of the other turtles in the hospital, instills the hope that all the volunteers share for the turtles' eventual healing and release. 

Following a busy morning at the sea turtle hospital, we scarfed down our lunches and once again mounted our minivans to the University of North Carolina, Wilmington (UNCW), where we were fortunate enough to have the honor of observing a sea turtle necropsy. This involved dissecting a green sea turtle to determine her cause of death and examine her anatomy.

The procedure was carried out by Sarah, an experienced sea turtle rescuer and researcher who sends many turtles to our friends at the sea turtle hospital. Each necropsy performed contributed to research studies on sea turtles. One such study sought to examine the bone formation to help determine the turtle's age. Another study on the gastrointestinal tract sought to determine the effects of microplastics on sea turtle digestion and overall health. During the dissection, Sarah excised anatomical systems, explaining the functions of each part. We learned that the cause of death of this turtle was pneumonia, which had inflamed the turtle's lungs. Each of us got hands-on experience to solidify our knowledge of sea turtle anatomy and threats to their survival. Thousands of turtles experienced a mass cold stunning event this winter due to abnormally warm temperatures in December, followed by a sharp drop in January. The turtles did not migrate in time for the plummeting temperatures, which left them vulnerable to frostbite, hypothermia, and infection. Cold- stunned turtles face severe danger because their immobility leads to their being struck by boats, eaten by predators, or eventual starvation. Many of the turtles currently in the sick bay were impacted by this mass cold stunning in January, and understanding the physiological basis of cold stunning gives us a more informed perspective to help the turtles. 

We returned on our noble minivans from the houses of Dodge and Kia, oddly craving breakfast. To everyone's delight, our chefs Emma and Ashley whipped up a hearty meal of eggs with blueberry, strawberry, and chocolate chip pancakes, supplemented by Danny's expertly prepared bacon and sausage. Dinner was on point. I hope we have dinner for breakfast tomorrow (jokes, we're having more cereal).

Following breakfast for dinner, we launched into a thoughtful reflection on the meaning of service and the impact an individual can make. One famous story associated with service involves a man who hurled starfish into the sea. When questioned as to why he did so, he replied that every single starfish he saved made a difference. In rebuttal, another author claimed that the starfish story oversimplified the more subtle ecological and community nuances in service. We debated the relative importance of individual impact and sociopolitical factors as it pertains to our environmental service experience. We also began discussing topics to prepare to teach local elementary school children about turtles and environmental conservation on Thursday. During our discussion, we fell into a fit of laughter as everyone, including our staff advisor, predicted potential questions from the children: "Is Nemo friends with all the turtles?"

What a happy end to a happy night. Stay tuned for more epic adventures with #THTSquad2016.

Good night,
John & Tiffany

P.S. Out of respect for the turtles in the hospital and at the necropsy, the staff have requested that we refrain from taking pictures of the turtles. That's why there are no pictures of turtles. For your viewing pleasure, we have included the following figures below.
Figure 1. Ashley makes pancakes as part of the breakfast for dinner meal.
Figure 2. Emma, one co-chef for tonight, cooked a delicious meal of scrambled eggs. 
Figure 3. Ashley and Danny cook pancakes and bacon, respectively.

Figure 4a. In maintaining the positive spirit of our Alternative Breaks experience, our fearless leader Mitchell Rock expressed his anxiety at the apparent shortage of pancakes. 

Figure 4b. This is the only plate of pancakes Mitch saw initially. Alas, four pancakes would not fill the stomachs of 12 hungry people.

Figure 5. It turns out we actually had enough pancakes. And scrambled eggs, bacon, and sausage.
Figure 6. Our fearless experience leaders, Nicole Moy and Mitchell Rock (left and right) clean up after dinner.
Figure 7. The beautiful sunset dazzled the skies as we enjoyed our breakfast for dinner.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Day 2: An Even More Epic Poem

Once upon a time, in the not so fictional land of Topsail, North Carolina, there was a hardy crew of Alternative Breakers. They begrudgingly awoke from their much required slumber before the crack of down, wondering why daylight savings time had robbed them of a vital hour of rest. Wiping the sleep from their weary eyes, they filled themselves with coffee and cereal, a recipe for success by any measure. Once again mounting their trusted minivans, they pursued glory by setting out on the trail to the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center.

Arriving with the beauty of a new sunrise, 12 excited Terps entered the hospital, allowing the fishy aroma to overwhelm their senses. What they found was a land of wonder. A beautiful facility with a dedicated staff of volunteers, all striving to save as many of our friends from the sea as possible.  64 sea turtles currently inhabit the facility, nearly twice as many as during last year's trip! Our returning members and staffer were able to reunite with Valor, Lee, and Lennie, three of the sea turtles from last year's experience, and they quickly discovered that many of their friends from the previous year had safely returned to their home in the ocean. With 3 familiar faces, and 59 new friends to meet, the participants had plenty of work to keep busy. However, though art not fret, every minute spent working on the turtles is considered a blessing by each and every member of this experience.

Split up, the participants found themselves in unfamiliar territory, just as the turtles had when first arriving to the hospital. Some of us spent the morning in Sea Turtle Bay, where most of the turtles reside. Feeding, cleaning, and brushing their carapaces (shells), the time flew by as the participants relished their first encounter with these majestic being of the sea. Some of their peers were able to experience the ICU of the facility, Sea Turtle Sick Bay. Here, the breakers witnessed how the turtles in the need of more care were treated. This includes a contribution from the bees, as honey is a potent healing agent. But let us never forget the magic of an unforgettable moment, when one participant lovingly bounced a cucumber into a tank for one of the green sea turtles to munch on.

After meeting our friends from these, and our volunteer friends form the land, we devoured  our sandwiches, fueling ourselves for future service. Meeting Judy, an amazing volunteer, and Jean Beasley (mama turtle), the owner of the hospital, the participant began their service education. A tale that could warm even the coldest of hearts, we learned about how Jean Beasley opened the facility in honor of her daughter. With no science background, Jean taught herself everything she needed to know in order to give the turtles the best care possible, and she became a citizen scientist. In this way, she is able to carry on her daughter Karen's legacy. Grateful for her tireless service, we learned that the hospital has successfully released over 600 rehabilitated turtles back into the wild since its inception in 1997.

Tired from a day full of firsts, we ate a meal of firsts. The unique combination of Mediterranean inspired tilapia, and Chinese inspired egg-drop soup proved delicious beyond comprehension. But dinner was not the final note of the night. Instead, we began a reflection for the ages. Again we opened our hearts and minds to mutual vulnerability, but we also incorporated privilege, and environmental justice into the evenings vibrant discussion. Throughout the conversation, it became apparent that language matters, and each individual possesses a unique perspective. That in itself is a thing of great beauty.

Signing off,
Nicole and Mitch

Figure 1. Our team learned about sea turtle anatomy from Judy, a long term volunteer of the sea turtle hospital.

Figure 2. Team bonding over a sea turtle species puzzle.

Figure 3. Tiffany and John cook an amazing Mediterranean-Chinese fusion meal.

Figure 4. Jean Beasley imparts words of wisdom and educates our team about our social issue of environmental conservation.